Tag Archives: history

The Ironic Assumptions of Gregory Schopen

Generations of schol­ars, from the in­cep­tion of the mod­ern study of Buddhism, have es­tab­lished a long-lasting and rel­a­tively sta­ble con­sen­sus re­gard­ing the texts and his­tory of early Buddhism. While in­evitably sub­ject to the usual kinds of un­cer­tainty, in­com­plete­ness, and evo­lu­tion, this con­sen­sus has pro­vided a frame­work for the pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ment of our un­der­stand­ing of the Buddha, his teach­ings, and his com­mu­nity. This con­sen­sus has been chal­lenged by the promi­nent Amercian aca­d­e­mic, Gregory Schopen. His es­says have been the most in­flu­en­tial re­assess­ment in the his­tory of Buddhist stud­ies. Many of his ideas are re­garded as vir­tu­ally canon­i­cal in mod­ern acad­e­mia, and have per­me­ated far be­yond the nor­mal reach of Buddhist aca­d­e­mic work. However, his ar­gu­ments are far bet­ter re­garded among non-specialists than among those who ac­tu­ally study early Buddhism. This es­say shows a num­ber of flaws and prob­lems with Schopen’s work on early Buddhism, by im­pli­ca­tion sup­port­ing the tra­di­tional con­sen­sus.

The First Mahāsaṅghikas

For what it is worth, we present here the de­tails con­cern­ing the names of the orig­i­na­tors of the Mahāsaṅghika heresy, ac­cord­ing to the var­i­ous trans­la­tions of Vasumitra. Kumārajīva (T 2032) men­tions three names only, which he iden­ti­fies as bhikkhus, not groups. In the Tibetan trans­la­tion by Dharmākara (Tanjur, Mdo. XC, 11) the same three names […]

Sekhiya Rules Reconsidered

Pachow and Prebish both re­gard the dif­fer­ences in the sekhiya (train­ing) rules of the pāṭimokkha as ev­i­dence for the an­tiq­uity of the Mahāsaṅghika Vinaya. Prebish fur­ther ar­gues, based on the Śāriputraparipṛcchā, that the dif­fer­ences in sekhiya rules were the de­ci­sive fac­tor in caus­ing the first schism be­tween the Mahāsaṅghikas and Sthaviras. I have else­where given […]

Names and Dates at Vedisa

Gotiputa Willis at­tempts to de­ter­mine the likely time of Gotiputa’s death. Assuming that the stupa was built soon af­ter the death of Gotiputa’s stu­dents, and that there was a 25–30 year gap be­tween Gotiputa’s death and the death of his stu­dents, he es­ti­mates that Gotiputa died around 140 BCE. But these as­sump­tions are highly ten­u­ous. […]

Mahāsaṅghika—the Earliest Vinaya?

The search goes on for some­thing that we can iden­tify as the ear­li­est Vinaya, the prin­ci­ples of monas­tic con­duct that have set the stan­dard for Buddhist monas­tics from the Buddha un­til now. For schol­ars this is part of the enig­mat­i­cally mean­ing­ful need to search for the ori­gins of things. For my­self as a prac­tic­ing monk, […]

Dharmaguptakas and the Stupa

Vasumitra men­tions that the Dharmaguptakas held that stupa wor­ship was mer­i­to­ri­ous, which is hardly un­usual. But the school also pre­serves a unique list of 26 sekhiya rules per­tain­ing to con­duct around the stupa. The ob­vi­ous read­ing of these two bits of in­for­ma­tion is that the Dharmaguptakas had a spe­cial em­pha­sis on the stupa cult. But […]

Saṅghabheda and Nikāyabheda

When writ­ing Sects & Sectarianism, I tried to ac­count for the mod­ern crit­i­cal as­sess­ments of the ev­i­dence as best I could. However, since this is a part-time project done amid a busy sched­ule, it’s dif­fi­cult to keep up with every­thing. Just re­cently I came across an ar­ti­cle by Heinz Bechert deal­ing with Aśoka’s ‘so-called’ schism […]

Why Devadatta Was No Saint

Devadatta is de­picted as the ar­che­typal vil­lain in all Buddhist tra­di­tions. Reginald Ray has ar­gued for a rad­i­cal re­assess­ment of Devadatta as a for­est saint who was un­fairly ma­ligned in later monas­tic Buddhism. His work has been in­flu­en­tial, but it re­lies on omis­sions and mis­taken read­ings of the sources. Ray’s claim that ‘there is no over­lap be­tween the Mahāsaṅghika treat­ment [of Devadatta] and that of the five [Sthavira] schools’ is un­true. On the con­trary, the man­ner in which Devadatta is de­picted in the Mahāsaṅghika is broadly sim­i­lar to the Sthavira ac­counts. Such dif­fer­ences as do ex­ist are lit­er­ary rather than doc­tri­nal. The sto­ries of Devadatta’s de­prav­ity be­came in­creas­ingly lurid in later Buddhism, but this is a nor­mal fea­ture of the mythol­o­giz­ing process, and has noth­ing to do with any an­tag­o­nism against for­est as­cetics. In any case, the early sources are unan­i­mous in con­demn­ing Devadatta as the in­sti­ga­tor of the first schism in the Buddhist com­mu­nity.

A History of Mindfulness

The Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta is the most in­flu­en­tial scrip­ture in Buddhist med­i­ta­tion. It is the foun­da­tion text for the mod­ern schools of ‘vipas­sanā’ or ‘in­sight’ med­i­ta­tion. The well-known Pali dis­course is, how­ever, only one of many early Buddhist texts that deal with mind­ful­ness. This is the first full-scale study to en­com­pass all ex­tant ver­sions of the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta, tak­ing into ac­count the dy­namic evo­lu­tion of the Buddhist scrip­tures and the broader Indian med­i­ta­tive cul­ture. A new vi­sion emerges from this ground­break­ing study: mind­ful­ness is not a sys­tem of ‘dry in­sight’ but is the ‘way to con­ver­gence’ lead­ing the mind to deep states of peace.

Sects & Sectarianism

Why are there so many schools of Buddhism? Are the dif­fer­ences just cul­tural, or do they have fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent vi­sions of Dhamma? This work as­sesses the claims of the tra­di­tions, and takes into ac­count to find­ings of mod­ern schol­ar­ship. It pays spe­cial at­ten­tion to the ori­gins of the monas­tic or­ders. If we are to un­der­stand the dif­fer­ences, and some­times ten­sions, be­tween the schools of Buddhism to­day, we must ex­am­ine more closely the forces that spurred their for­ma­tion.